What Google's purchase of YouTube really does is begin to standardize how copyrighted video is made available online for free.
So here we are. Less than four days after Google acquired YouTube, the CEO of Time Warner has publicly stated that his company is pursuing copyright negotiations with YouTube and hopes that discussion will be kicked upstairs to Google.
Not exactly the cannonade Mark Cuban or Howard Stern were expecting, but there it is. The "shot across the bow" of Google and YouTube.
Except it's not, not really. Dick Parsons sounds more cowed than aggravated, more interested in pursuing partnership opportunities than suing the pants off Google. If anything, Parsons is borrowing a page from Universal's CEO Doug Morris by making public announcements to affect private negotiations. Time Warner may be jealous of YouTube's success, but it wants to work with the company. (Update: see this story for more on Parsons' thinking.)
Why? Because Time Warner doesn't want another Napster scenario. The music companies didn't win when they shut down Napster, they simply caused file-sharing to metastasize. Where Napster fell, a handful of file-sharing networks arose. Five years later, LimeWire is still active, BitTorrent is alive and well, and the business models for actually selling MP3s belong to technology companies, not the labels. Oops.
Now there's been a sea change in how content owners think about distribution. They understand piracy is a business model they have to compete with -- not litigate against -- by providing compelling viewing experiences and easier access to content.
So what Google's purchase of YouTube really does is begin to standardize how copyrighted video is made available online for free.
Once Time Warner partners with YouTube and employs the yet-to-be-developed fingerprinting technology, it can turn around and litigate more effectively against all the other sites that don't use that technology. Presto, it's protected its content while taking advantage of the attention economy.
Meanwhile, Google wins not only by annexing the No. 1 destination for all that content, but also by controlling the negtiating process that brings that content to the table.
Net net, Google wins by ensuring that it will always have more video content from copyright holders to sell ads around. It's actually the reverse of its situations with Google Books and Google News.
So the copyright war has begun, but it's begun with a white flag and peace talks.
p.s. I was talking with Nate from BetaNews at a party last night, and he said something I haven't heard anybody else say: "You know who the big winner in all this really is? Adobe." Ten years after Flash debuted, it's everywhere.